Foreign Policy Bake Sales. Or, be Careful What You Wish For.

Maybe it won’t be a great day for you–be careful what you wish for… In recognition of the success that Kony2012 had in rasing money for a niche geopolitical cause, students at MIT created a faux webpage “Kick Starter” pretending to raise money for things on the opposite side of use of force continuum – a mobile black site for intensive interrogations, among other things.

The reason for doing this was to demonstrate the ability to crowsource funding for initiatives that are championed by ideologies that are on the hard-power end of foreign policy.

As the last blog I posted demonstrates, the ability for motivated individuals to become active in a conflict exists and is very real.  What amounts to DIY intervention can have an impact upon the course of World events (similar to the warning given to us service members from the SECDEF).  To me, what this says is that citizens no longer only vote for a foreign policy with their ballots, but they can also–directly–do so with their wallets, time and skill-sets.

The conditions are right, and the historical precedent is now set for the ‘memetic stew’ to bring forth a Non-Governmental Organization as a third option that takes elements from Kony2012, private security firms, and Kiva for those who wish to see some sort of change in the World.

What strikes me as ironic, is that the words typically espoused towards supporting World peace, are now the intellectual foundation under which we may see a new method for hard power applied in the World.  This is not to say that the end goals of those who see the utility of hard power is all that different from those who see greater utility in soft power.

Rather, in the long-term, I am interested to see if the potential I’ve outlined here coalesces to incorporate both hard and soft power elements.  Such a coalescing would amount to a private sector analog to a nation’s foreign policy.  Which would, arguably, be the tipping point for the replacement of the Westphalian era, where an organizational paradigm like a government is no longer required to bring together the ends, ways and means to execute foreign policy.

[Cross-posted at USNI]

Tacit Experience and Revolutions

This is the beginning of the (long-delayed) Fear, Honor, and Interest discussion on London, social media, riots, and state power. Given the free-ranging nature of what we’re about to discuss, we’ve started with a dialogue between H. Lucien Gauthier and Adam Elkus on social media, tacit experience, and the Arab Spring revolutions.

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The Revolution will be Tweeted… So What.

The internet facilitates a lot of amazing things.  It allows you to read my words, have an unlimited jukebox at YouTube, trade epic Rage Comics, LOLCats, p0wn newbz on XBox Live, and watch awesome viral marketing ads like this (rated R).  It has changed social interaction, as it has significantly reduced the tyranny of distance.  Though, what hasn’t changed are a lot of the things you’ll find outside your window, or how humans inherently treat power once they have it.

Roundabouts are a good analogy for what the internet can and cannot do. Mostly uncommon in the States, I had very little practice with them prior to moving to Europe. At first the merging methodology of roundabouts befuddled me, and I didn’t much care for them.  Now with six months of practice under my belt, I wish we had more of them in the States, they’re simply brilliant and better than ‘normal’ intersections.  Realizing this, I asked myself why, with the power of the internet to exchange ideas; why hasn’t the notion (or meme) of roundabouts caught on in the States?  The answer I come to is that while the internet can expose a person to ideas, it doesn’t change the cognitive patter of the individual enough to change behavior, that there is an environmental component to any behavioral change.  To me this is the waterline, where the power of the internet ends.

The power of the internet is the memes that move across it.  I don’t just mean LOLCats, or anything concocted by the trolls at 4Chan.  I mean that everything you see online is a meme or a meta-meme.  The roundabout meme cannot make a person adapt to roundabouts in real life any easier.  The person has to physically experience a roundabout to adapt and even appreciate it.

This fact seems largely lost on most people who make their living with Social Media, as well as give a false sense of ‘this time it’s different’ in geopolitics.

CAIRO — Egypt will not allow international groups to monitor its upcoming parliamentary election, the country’s military rulers announced Wednesday, echoing ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s argument that foreign electoral oversight would be an affront to Egyptian sovereignty.

Yes, the Arab Spring used the internet and Social Media to spread the sense of revolution and motivate people to take to the streets.  But, it hasn’t changed the basic human paradigm of what it is to hold power and what it takes to change who holds power.  This is the internet’s waterline in terms of the Arab Spring.

Am I saying that the hopes of many in regards to the Arab Spring are foolish?  No, I am not.  What I am saying is that the internet will not change the behavior of those in power alone.   Behavior is as much a function of one’s environment as it is the memes they have been exposed to.  The undue focus that has been paid to Social Media in the Arab Spring neglects the affect that environment has on behavior.  It is not a bold new age we’re in because of the internet and its memes.

Tweets and Libya

Strategy page has an interesting piece based on how NATO is utilizing Twitter as a source for intelligence.  The focus on the article is on the gathering of intelligence, and so is very light on the considerations that must be made in analyzing such sources.

By doing a keyword search on Twitter one can readily see that someone by the name of @RRowleyTucson was the source for many tweets.  His profile states that he is from Tucson, AZ; how someone becomes privy to such information in Arizona is a little beyond me.

More broadly than gathering timely open-source intelligence via twitter are the implications for information campaigns to directly affect the tactical level.  Information of this sort hasn’t directly targeted its effects on the tactical level before.  But, this development demonstrates how an adversary can attempt to affect everything from the tactical to the strategic level with information and 140 characters.

From a strategic communications view, the audience this targets is not simply trigger-pullers.  It is the entirety of the Twitter audience, which is where the implications of such information become interesting.  If, in only as twitter can, a plurality is reached that X information is correct and must be acted upon.  But, trigger-puller Y decides that the information isn’t actionable.  What are the implications for public sentiment? Or, consider that actionable information is sent, but not acted upon.  The inaction causes a high profile death that could have been prevented.  How would such a happenstance play in the media?